Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Where do you want to live? A simple question, but ...

For the second consecutive year, Tokyo was selected No. 1 in Monocle's
Quality of Life survey.

It's no secret that the best cities in the world are ones which are vibrant and offer the best quality of life for their residents. The best city environments are those which are tolerant and open-minded, celebrate diversity, have great universities and welcome creativity.

Having quality independent bookshops, green spaces and clean streets as well as efficient transportation systems are big pluses, too.

Back in summer 2007 when Monocle was still just a few months old, the London-based monthly briefing that's become a "must-read" – and a favorite of mine – through its focus on global affairs, business, culture and design, launched its inaugural "Quality of Life" survey, naming the best global cities to call home. Munich was the first No. 1. This year, it's Tokyo reigning at the top for the second consecutive year in the 10th year that Monocle has conducted its "Quality of Life" survey. It's both a source of pride for the cities who make the top 25 list – like receiving a prestigious Michelin star – and every year seems to unearth a surprise or two or three.

Monocle: A briefing on Global Affairs,
Business, Culture & Design.
Over the years, Monocle has added new metrics that take into account both intangibles and infrastructure – from nightlight to pet-friendly parks – which have led to some dramatic changes and brought about a new world order.

"We add to the metrics each year and this time we've measured cities' nocturnal qualities too, from closing times to the places that still serve a good meal after 22.00," wrote Monocle executive editor Steve Bloomfield in a preface to this year's "Quality of Life" survey. "Despite these new metrics, when looking back over the previous surveys it's striking to see how the fundamentals of what makes a livable city have remained the same.

"Among the metrics we still count the number of murders and break-ins, and the average response times of emergency services – because if your city isn't safe it doesn't matter how many art galleries there are. We still grade cities on their transport network too, from infrastructure to cost. Cities that encourage cycling and make it cheap and easy to use public transport continue to score well. So too do those that make it easy to get away; the best cities are connected to the rest of the world. And we still judge our cities on their food, drink and retail – the quality, not just the quantity. Those with a high number of independent bookshops prosper; those with a high number of Starbucks less so."

Bloomfield concludes: "The most livable cities are safe, affordable and exciting. And that will probably still be the case in another decade's time."

While London, Paris and Rome remain three of the biggest tourist destinations in the world, their popularity doesn't necessarily translate into great places to live. Hint: none of the Big three made Monocle's top 25 cities list.

Here are Monocle's top 25 cities in this year's "Quality of Life" survey:

•  1. Tokyo, Japan
•  2. Berlin, Germany
•  3. Vienna, Austria
•  4. Copenhagen, Denmark
•  5. Munich, Germany
•  6. Melbourne, Australia
•  7. Fukuoka, Japan
•  8. Sydney, Australia
•  9. Kyoto, Japan
•10. Stockholm, Sweden
•11. Vancouver, B.C. (Canada)
•12. Helsinki, Finland
•13. Zürich, Switzerland
•14. Madrid, Spain
•15. Hamburg, Germany
•16. Lisbon, Portugal
•17. Düsseldorf, Germany
•18. Hong Kong
•19. Barcelona, Spain
•20. Singapore
•21. Amsterdam, Netherlands
•22. Auckland, New Zealand
•23. Honolulu, Hawaii (USA)
•24. Portland, Oregon (USA)
•25. Montréal, Quebec (Canada)

Of the 25 cities, I have experienced seven of them: Copenhagen, Vancouver, Helsinki, Amsterdam, Honolulu, Portland and Montréal. I've been a return visitor to Vancouver, Amsterdam and Portland numerous times and there's much to enjoy in each of these cities. Vancouver was a welcoming host for both the 2010 Olympic Winter Games and the 2015 Women's World Cup football championships and I'm glad to have experienced both events as well as both winter and summer weather in Vancouver.

In justifying Tokyo's No. 1 ranking, Monocle wrote: "... the city's round-the-clock economy is a key feature that makes it one of the most attractive places to live and visit. With a conveniently located international airport open 24 hours a day, bookshops that open at 07.00 and close at 04.00, and restaurants and shops that never close, Tokyo recognizes the pull of being open all hours."

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Summer: Solstice, sunsets and strawberry moons

We are just three days into summer, a time of the year that means happy times and good sunshine. For a northern Californian, like me, it might mean sneaking away for a picnic in Muir Woods or a day at AT&T Park watching the Giants. But, if you're a southern Californian, the choices include tanning on the beach, escaping to Disneyland, or just having fun watching summer blockbusters at the local cineplex. Regardless of where you might be, summers are meant for being happy.

Here are some early summer thoughts I posted on my Facebook page over the past few days, illustrated with some choice photographs that I took:

On the eve of the Full Strawberry Moon.

Summer solstice eve: As the summer solstice arrives on Monday, so, too, does a Full Strawberry Moon – together for the first time in nearly 70 years. Although it is still Sunday night in California, tonight's moon to this casual observer looks to be very full – and beautiful, too.

Summer flowers in our backyard garden.

Thoughts on the official first day of summer: "Summer afternoon summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language." – Henry James

Capturing summer's first sunset.

Thoughts about sunsets as summer welcomes its first sunset: "Sunset is a wonderful opportunity for us to appreciate all the great things the sun gives us!" – Mehmet Murat idan, contemporary Turkish playwright and novelist.

A colorful Full Strawberry Moon accented by the clouds.

Finally, as the summer solstice even arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area of northern California, so, too, did the Full Strawberry Moon. Despite some clouds, it was a colorful and entertaining full moon, both to look at and as well as to photograph.

Looking forward to a wonderful and rewarding summer.

Photographs: By Michael Dickens © 2016.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Paul Simon: Still creative after all these years

Paul Simon / Feeling groovy late in the evening.

Paul Simon's 13th solo album, Stranger to Stranger, is just out to critical acclaim, and following two recent weekend concerts at UC-Berkeley's Greek Theater, the 74-year-old singer/songwriter stopped by City Arts & Lectures in San Francisco last week for an insightful conversation with Dave Eggers that was a benefit for the writer's 826 Valencia project.

For over 90 minutes, Simon, whom New Yorker critic Kelefa Sanneh recently labeled as "one of the most accomplished overthinkers in the history of popular music," spoke both thoughtfully and haltingly about a variety of things, including: his new album, a series of songs filled with experiments in rhythm and texture throughout its lithe 37-minute duration; his creative process; his approach to writing music and composing lyrics that paint an imperfect world; and the emotional outpouring from singing "The Boxer" on the same night as Muhammad Ali's death, just moments after learning of The Greatest's passing.

As Simon spoke about the physics of sound – "the tone of the universe is a slightly flat B-flat" – he also strummed a faux air guitar, picking at the melody with his right hand and moving the fingers of his left hand up and down his imaginary fretboard. Later on, he reached for a guitar positioned behind his chair to illustrate a chord progression as he crooned the notes to a song.

On Stranger to Stranger, Simon's collaborators include the Italian electronic producer Clap! Clap! and long-dead composer and inventor Harry Partch, whose variety of homemade instruments contributed to the texture and dreamlike ambience of the album.


On "The Werewolf," for instance, Stereogum.com, writes: "Warped banjo, hand claps, and intricate down-home percussion are interjected with peculiar invest bursts. Simon soulfully warns of a werewolf's impending approach with some vivid storytelling and irresistible melodies."

Always a storyteller, Simon shared a funny anecdote about a 2004 Simon and Garfunkel reunion concert that he and his former music partner Art Garfunkel gave on the grounds of the Rome Colosseum. He said that while Garfunkel was singing an extended solo, Simon gazed out at nearby residents listening from their apartment balconies while thinking to himself, "I wonder what an apartment like that would cost?" He also talked about his 1986 ground-breaking album Graceland, and waxed about what it's been like being in the midst of a late-career renaissance.

"He has managed to become neither a wizened oracle nor an oldies act, and his best songs convey the appealing sensation of listening to a guy who is still trying to figure out what he's doing," wrote Sanneh in his New Yorker article, "Cool Papa," published last month.

Paul Simon and Dave Eggers / Old friends.
"Ain't no song like an old song," Simon once wrote, and the New York native has been practicing his craft for the past 50 years, releasing a new album about every three years or so. Although Simon said he doesn't keep up with the latest music trends and hits, he remains an attentive listener with a curious mind, one who always is collecting raw ingredients and rhythms for the future. Writing music, he noted, gets harder.

"But harder is fine. It's not like harder is the opposite of fun."

By night's end, Simon broke out an acoustic guitar and sang "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy)," which served as a nice bookend. He left to a standing ovation from the mostly Baby Boomer audience at The Nourse.

It all made for a memorable and enjoyable evening.

Photos: By Michael Dickens © 2016.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

At Roland Garros, Djokovic and his quest both embraced

Novak Djokovic / Kissing the Coupe, basking in the glory of tennis history.

What more could you ask for – No. 1 playing No. 2, Novak Djokovic versus Andy Murray. At stake was an opportunity for one player to be the first in 47 years to hold all four Grand Slam titles at once, while for the other it was a chance to be the first British male player since Fred Perry in 1935 to be champion of Roland Garros. Neither had won the French Open before. On Sunday, one of them would win, and when they did, they would get to hoist the Coupe de Mousquetaires, one of the great and exciting moments in tennis.

Pour le gagnant va la Coupe. À votre santé!

At Roland Garros, the Parisian crowd
loves to embrace its winners.
As evening began to fall over Court Philippe Chatrier, it became apparent to everyone witnessing the spectacle in person as well as to a world-wide television audience that this Grand Slam was Djokovic's to win. After losing in the final three of the last four years, Djokovic finally had reason to feel joyous. He finally got to experience the thrill of victory instead of the agony of defeat when he beat Murray, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, to win the title.

When the last point had been played, Djokovic became the eighth man to complete a career Grand Slam in tennis – and the first since the iconic Rod Laver of Australia in 1969 to hold all four of the Grand Slam singles titles at the same time – when he won the 2016 French Open. Call it a Djoker Slam, if you wish. Soon, he used his tennis racquet to create a heart in the clay, then promptly lay down inside of it spread eagle, happy, and smiling all the while.

"It's a very special day, perhaps the biggest moment of my career," Djokovic, a 29-year-old from Serbia, said in French to what New York Times tennis columnist Christopher Clarey described as "the tough-to-conquer Parisian crowd that had gradually come to embrace him and his quest."

In witnessing Djokovic's historic four-set victory over Murray, Clarey wrote of the World No. 1: "He is quite a conundrum for the opposition with his elastic ground strokes, big serve and world-class returns. He can make a tennis court look dauntingly cramped as you face him across the net."

Gracious in defeat, Murray, the No. 2 seed from Great Britain, said of Djokovic: "This is his day today. What he's achieved in the last 12 months is phenomenal. Winning all four of the Grand Slams in one year is an amazing achievement. it's something that is so rare in tennis. You know it's not happened for an extremely long time, and it's going to take a long time for it to happen again. Everyone here who came to watch is extremely lucky to see it."

The champion and the Coupe / Djokovic enjoys
the day after in Paris.
Each year in late spring, the French Open in Paris serves as a grading period – a report card if you will – for professional tennis. It's the second of the year's four Grand Slam events – the others are the Australian Open in January, Wimbledon in late June and the U.S. Open in August near the end of summer  – and all the big names in men's professional tennis except 17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer, seeded third, who pulled out with a back injury, came to famed Roland Garros to complete for the Coupe.

Soon after, No. 4 seed Rafael Nadal, himself the owner of 14 Grand Slam titles – including nine at Roland Garros – pulled out just before his third-round match with an injury to his left wrist that he developed coming into the tournament. His status for Wimbledon remains uncertain. So, it was left to Djokovic and Murray, among the Big Four, to carry on the fight to the end while dodging many rain delays – and worthy opponents, including last year's champion Stan Wawrinka – along the way during the second week of the fortnight. To the amazement of many, both the men's final as well as the women's final the day before, won by Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain in a huge upset over Serena Williams of the U.S., went on as scheduled.

"In the beginning, I was not glad to be part of their era," Djokovic said in reference to Federer and Nadal. Now, with 12 Grand Slams to his name, tying him with Australian great Roy Emerson for fourth on the career list and putting him within of Federer and Nadal, his attitude has changed. He said: "Later on I realized that everything happens for a reason. You're put in this position with a purpose, a purpose to learn and grow and evolve."

Photos: Courtesy of Google Images, 2016; Official Roland Garros poster art by Marc Desgrandchamps, 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

SIFF: Fostering community through cinema

The Seattle International Film Festival / A chance to see the world
from a different perspective.

The Seattle International Film Festival's mission is a simple but meaningful one: Create experiences that bring together people to discover extraordinary films from around the world. It is through the art of cinema, it believes, that we foster a community, one that is more informed, aware and alive.

The best of Sweden / A Man Called Ove
It is said that a great film is more than entertainment. It's a chance for moviegoers to see the world from a different perspective.

While in Seattle over the long holiday weekend visiting longtime friends, my wife and I and our friends experienced four extraordinary films from four different countries – Australia, Germany, Sweden and the U.S. – that were most enjoyable.

On Friday afternoon, we began with the 2015 Australian documentary film Women He's Undressed, in which Director Gillian Armstrong pays tribute to Academy Award-winning costume designer Orry-Kelly, a little-celebrated Australian hero of Hollywood's golden age who adorned the stars in such classics as Some Like It Hot, Casablanca, and An American in Paris, and was scandalously linked to Cary Grant as his former lover.

On Friday evening, we turned to the 2014 Austrian film Therapy for a Vampire for laughs. It's a dramatic comedy in which one night Sigmund Freud discovers a new patient on his couch, a mysterious count who has entered therapy because he can no longer bear his "eternally long" relationship with his wife, in this humorous mashup of vampire legend and neurotic obsessions. It was presented in German with English subtitles.

On Sunday afternoon, we sat front and center in the balcony of venerable Egyptian Theater on Capitol Hill, a classic movie house, where we saw Sweden's biggest hit of 2015, an endearing and crowd-pleasing dramatic comedy, En Man Som Heter Ove (A Man Called Ove). Rolf Lassgård stars as Ove, a grumpy, curmudgeonly old man, who finds his caustic view of the world put to the test when a new family moves in next door. The Swedish movie with English subtitles, which was adapted from the best-selling novel by Fredrik Backman, moved me to tears, and played upon the themes of unexpected friendship and love.

An intriguing spy thriller / Our Kind of Traitor
"A Swedish film in an Egyptian theater in America," a Tunisian Facebook friend messaged me on Sunday afternoon. "I like that," she wrote. I liked that, too.

Finally, on Sunday night, we were riveted by the spy thriller Our Kind of Traitor, based on the novel by bestselling author John Le Carré, starring Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris as a couple who wind up as international pawns in a chess game between the Russian Mafia and the British Secret Service. It also stars Stellan Skarsgård and Damian Lewis, and it is due for a summer release here in the U.S. I highly recommend it.

Each film we attended drew capacity audiences of well-informed and educated film goers – the first at Pacific Place, a modern cineplex in downtown Seattle, and the other three at the Egyptian in the city's Capitol Hill neighborhood, and tickets were reasonably priced at $13 for each film.

This year's festival, which continues through June 12, will present over 400 features, short films and documentaries gathered from more than 80 countries.

Looking back, for the duration of each film we saw, there was a fostering of community. Together, we laughed, we cried, we felt excited, we applauded. Attending the country's largest film festival – with more than 150,000 people attending over the 25-day event – was both special exciting, and I look forward to returning again.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

SFMOMA – Welcoming an old friend back to the City

Welcome back / The new-look SFMOMA has grown from five to 10 stories.

Last Thursday evening, my wife and I welcomed an old friend back to San Francisco. The San Francisco Museum of Modern ART (SFMOMA) reopened earlier this month after being closed for the past three years while undergoing a massive – and challenging – expansion project by Oslo and New York design firm Snøhetta. The new-look SFMOMA has grown from five to 10 stories. Dropping in on the newly transformed museum after work for a short visit before heading out for dinner and shopping, we delighted in seeing some favorite artworks and architectural features – including some of the gems from the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection, considered to be one of the world's greatest.

The largest living wall in the U.S. greets visitors to SFMOMA.
From first glimpse, there's much to like about the new look and space of SFMOMA, including new galleries, expanded exhibition space, better lighting, greater access, art-filled public spaces, six terraces and sculptural staircases, which offer unique views out to the city.

As visitors step outside onto the main terrace, they are greeted by a giant living wall designed by Habitat Horticulture. It is part art, part landscape and it's the nation's largest public green wall of native plants.

Constellation  (1949) / From Alexander Calder: Motion Lab
We delighted in seeing the Alexander Calder: Motion Lab, which highlights Calder's restless innovation in bringing actual movement into art. We viewed About Time: Photography in a Moment of Change, a thematic exhibition which investigates how photography has profoundly reflected, inflected and transformed our perception of time through its 180-year history. We also saw Model Behavior, Snøhetta's initial sketches and models for the expanded SFMOMA building, located in a challenging and prominent urban site on Third Street, just south of Market Street.

A swarm of chaotic energy /
Studying Antony Gormley's "Quantum Cloud VIII"
Finally, upon ascending to Floor 5, we admired British Sculptors, in which more than forty years of diverse sculpture by artists who were born or reside in Great Britain was displayed.

My favorite was Antony Gormley's "Quantum Cloud VIII," a 1999 steel sculpture that was acquired by the Fisher Family in 2000. According to the sculptor, "Quantum Cloud VIII conceives of the body as a swarm of chaotic energy. A human figure seems to alternately materialize from and disintegrate into the cloud of metal bars."

Created between 1999 and 2009, Gormley's Quantum Cloud series reflects on "how the subatomic particles and energy that make up our bodies are integrated with those that compose the universe around us."

Alexander Calder /
Big Crinkly (1969)
There is much to see and enjoy in the 170,000 square feet of exhibition space, and as members, we look forward to going back often to see some of the things we missed during our initial visit. Some of the current exhibits include:

Paul Klee in Color, which includes paintings and watercolors by the Swiss-born modernist Paul Klee (1879-1940) that explore "his intuitive and theoretical approaches to color."

German Art after 1960, which is an overview of leading German artists such as Gerhard Richter, Georg Baslitz, Anselm Kiefer, and Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Typeface to Interface, which features graphic design from the Collection, "a trajectory of iconic type and the evolution of digital tools marking the rapid transformation of graphic design over the past sixty years."

San Francisco / A city that loves art and open spaces.
In its 81-year history, SFMOMA has established itself as a premier showcase for modern art – think Calder, Close, Kahlo, Kelly, Pollack and Warhol. One things certain: There's definitely a new a positive dedication to openness as the museum begins a new dialogue with San Francisco, a city that loves its art.

To read more about what art critics are saying about the new SFMOMA design:

Photos: All photos by Michael Dickens © 2016.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

I cannot live without books, either

More than 200 years ago, President Thomas Jefferson once said, "I cannot live without books." As one of our country's Founding Fathers, Jefferson was onto something – and today, I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment.

While I have a nice living room display and collection of books, it's become increasingly challenging to find and make good time to read books on a regular basis. Mind you, I enjoy reading – even if I have a reading list I will never finish. Every day, I spend time reading The New York Times and I keep up with the newsfeed of my Facebook. Still, I would like to spend more time with books. Doesn't matter if they are hardcover or softcover. A good book is something that's hard to put down.

Fortunately, each time I go to the gym – usually five times a week – I bring a book with me and spend 30 minutes riding a stationary bike with an open book to take my mind off of exercising. After all, it's been said, "Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body."

While reading a book is like taking a good journey, three books which I have recently read and recommend to everyone are:

Indentured / Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss
The rebellion against
the college sports cartel.
• Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA by Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss. The authors (one a columnist, the other a contributing writer for The New York Times) have long recognized that there is a widespread corruption that plagues big-time college sports. Indentured grew out of a controversial New York Times column Nocera wrote four years ago in which he asked pointblank: "How can the NCAA blithely wreck careers without regard to due process or common fairness? How can it act so ruthlessly to enforce rules that are so petty? Why won't anybody stand up to these outrageous violations of American values and American justice?"

As millions of high school seniors each year accept athletic scholarships to American colleges and universities to chase their dream of fame and fortune as "student-athletes," sports fans have finally come to realize that athletes in the two biggest college sports, men's basketball and football, "are little more than indentured servants." Their best interests are not being served by the NCAA, notes Nocera and Strauss.

They write: "For about 5 percent of top-division players, college ends with a golden ticket to the NFL or the NBA. But what about the overwhelming majority who never turn pro? They don't earn a dime from the estimated $13 billion generated annually by college sports – an ocean of cash that enriches schools, conferences, coaches, TV networks, and apparel companies ... everyone except those who give their blood and sweat to entertain the fans."

Indentured is a must read book for college sports fans – a real eye-opening drama and a good page-turner – and chapter after compelling chapter, it tells a story of a group of "rebels" – former athletes, coaches, marketers – who decided to fight for justice against the hypocrisy of the NCAA.

Saving Capitalism /
For the Many, Not the Few
By Robert B. Reich.
• Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few by Robert B. Reich is a book that's an intersection of economics and politics, "a myth-shattering breakdown of how the economic system that helped make America so strong is now failing us, and what it will take to fix it." Reich has served in three national administrations – he was Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton – and currently is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the Richard and Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economics. So, he knows his subject matter very well.

In Saving Capitalism, Reich "reveals how power and influence have created a new American oligarchy, a shrinking middle class, and the greatest income inequality and wealth disparity in eighty years." His writing throughout the book is both filled with passion and it's precisely argued.

Reich recalls how in the post-World II outlook, America created the largest middle class the world had ever seen. "Then, the economy generated hope. Hard work paid off, education was the means toward upward mobility, those who contributed most reaped the largest rewards, economic growth created more and better jobs, the living standards of most people improved throughout their working lives, our children would enjoy better lives than we had, and the rules of the game were basically fair," writes Reich.

He continues: "But today all these assumptions ring hollow. Confidence in the economic system has declined sharply. The apparent arbitrariness and unfairness of the economy have undermined the public's faith in its basic tenets. Cynicism abounds. To many, the economic and political systems seem rigged, the deck stacked in favor of those at the top. The threat to capitalism is no longer communism or fascism but a steady undermining of the trust modern societies need for grown and stability."

Robert Reich is one of the best economists in modern American history, according to U.S. Senator and Democratic Presidential contender Bernie Sanders. "He understands that there is something profoundly wrong when the top one-tenth of one percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. This book is a road map on how to rebuild the middle class and fix a rigged economy that has been propped up by a corrupt campaign finance system," said Sanders.

I'd Know That Voice Anywhere /
By Frank Deford
A collection of his NPR commentaries.
• I'd Know That Voice Anywhere by Frank Deford. The longtime NPR Morning Edition commentator, who is also senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated and a senior correspondent on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, is one of America's most beloved sport commentators. Since 1980, Deford has recorded over 2,000 commentaries for NPR – "the serious, the foolish, the noble, the idiosyncratic; this game, that athletic." His latest book – his nineteenth – is a collection of literary sports commentaries that brings together a charming, insightful and wide-ranging look at athletes and the sports world.

"Being a writer, I never paid much attention to my voice," writes Deford in the forward for I'd Know That Voice Anywhere. "Since, when it came to interviewing, I was a primitive pen-and-notebook reporter, I rarely even heard myself speak on a tape recorder. ... Then, in the autumn of 1979, through impossibly serendipitous circumstances, National Public Radio approached me about doing a weekly sports commentary, and suddenly I had to direct that run-of-the-mill voice of mine into a microphone. But then, to my utter delight (shock and awe?), I soon found myself being complimented, advised that I possessed a distinct "radio voice." Where did you get that? people asked me, as if you could pick it out at an appliance store."

In I'd Know That Voice Anywhere, Deford muses everything sport from our continued love affair for Joe DiMaggio to the similarities between Babe Ruth and Winnie the Pooh. He rhapsodizes about how football reminds him of Venice, and even offers Super Bowl coverage in the form of a Shakespearian sonnet. Deford waxes poetically about the most popular sports of yesteryear such as boxing, golf and horse racing, and compares the Olympics to an independent movie comprised of foreign actors you've never heard of.

"Sports is, on the one level, mere amusement, but it is found in every culture," notes Deford, "and while it's not an absolute necessity for us, as eating and drinking and procreation are – sports is a card-carrying part of the human condition, in the same league with religion and drama and art and music. You can ignore sports, just as  you might choose not to care about other of those optional devotions, but sports does have a hefty place in our world, and I'm pleased to have been its troubadour on NPR. To voice sports may well be the next best thing to being out on the field itself, playing. And there's no risk of concussions."

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

"My name is Sadiq Khan and I'm the mayor of London!"

Sadiq Khan / I'm a Londoner, I'm European, I'm British, I'm English,
I'm of Islamic faith, of Asian origin, of Pakistani heritage, a dad, a husband."

London began the week with a new mayor. Meet Sadiq Khan. Not only is he the first Muslim to lead Britain's capital city, he's the first Muslim head of a major European capital.

"I'm a Londoner, I'm European, I'm British, I'm English, I'm of Islamic faith, of Asian origin, of Pakistani heritage, a dad, a husband," said the newly elected, 45-year-old Khan in a recent interview with The New York Times.

Khan, a Labour Party leader, succeeds two-term Conservative Boris Johnson, who was London's mayor since 2008. He was officially sworn in as London's new mayor last Saturday during a ceremony at Southwark Cathedral, and was immediately greeted with cheers and applause.

Sadiq Khan / The first Muslim leader of an important
western city.
Born in Tooting, South London, Khan is the fifth of eight children whose parents immigrated from Pakistan. He grew up in the 1970s in a public-housing project – known as a council estate – where his father drove a London city bus and his mother was a seamstress.

"My parents came here because they saw London as a beacon," Khan told The Guardian. "A place where they could create a better life."

Following a bitter Conservative campaign of personal attacks that was dominated by anxieties over his religion and ethnicity, Khan won a striking and historic victory over Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith, gaining a broad acceptance from the London electorate who supported him with 44 percent of first preference votes (56.8 percent of the vote overall) in a crowded field. His election brushed aside attempts by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron's government to link Khan to the threat of Islamist extremism and, perhaps, it signaled "a broad acceptance by voters of London's racial and religious diversity just months after jihadi terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris," wrote the Financial Times of London.

"Sadiq Khan's election as mayor of the British capital – making him the first Muslim leader of an important western city – is a historic moment that will be scrutinized around the world, particularly in other European cities struggling to integrate Muslim communities," wrote the Financial Times. "The victory of the Labour party candidate reaffirms London's multicultural image at a time of rising populist fervor in Europe and the U.S."

Khan has said he hoped that Donald J. Trump – the presumptive Republican Party presidential candidate who has called for barring Muslims from entering the U.S. – "loses badly."

As mayor of London, Khan will have power over transport, housing, air quality and policing. He's promised to make 50 percent of new homes affordable. He takes charge of one of the world's great cities, "a vibrant metropolis where every tongue is heard," wrote The New York Times. "In his victory, a triumph over the slurs that tried to tie him to Islamist extremism, Khan stood up for openness against isolationism, integration against confrontation, opportunity for all against racism and misogyny. He was the anti-Trump."

Khan, married and the father of two daughters, comes to his new leadership post following a career as a human rights lawyer. He was a Labour councillor in Tory-held Wandsworth for 12 years. He entered Parliament in 2005 and in 2010 his orchestrated Ed Miliband's winning Labour leadership campaign. He ran Labour's London campaign in the 2015 general election.

Sadiq Khan / "Proud that London has today chosen
hope over fear and unity over division."
As an observant Muslim, Khan seems well placed to tackle extremism in a city known for its tolerance and respect of each other. Although Britain has not sustained a major terrorist attack since 2005, it's worth noting that unlike France, Britain's Muslim population is well integrated, and one in eight Londoners identify as Muslim. During the campaign, Khan openly proclaimed his Muslim faith and declared that he was "the British Muslim who will take the fight to the extremists."

Still, Khan's election as mayor comes at a time when Europe is struggling with an increase in Islamaphobia, "riven by debates about the flood of Syrian migrants and on edge over religious, ethnic and cultural disputes," wrote The New York Times.


During Khan's acceptance speech, he noted that London's mayoral election "was not without controversy," but said he was "proud that London has today chosen hope over fear and unity over division."

He added: "I hope that we will never be offered such a stark choice again. Fear does not make us safer, it only makes us weaker and the politics of fear is simply not welcome in our city."

Photos: Cover photo: Courtesy of Sadiq Khan Facebook page. Others: Courtesy of Google Images. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Independent bookstores: A glimpse into the soul of a city

Contributing to the cultural fabric / Powell's City of Books, Portland, Ore.

The comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said that a bookstore is "one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking."

Thank goodness for bookstores. Thank goodness we are still thinking, too.

Visiting independent bookstores are always a treat because they offer something unique. Whenever I travel, I try to seek them out. They offer a glimpse into the soul of a city and a sense of a pretty cool place to buy a book.

Despite the shuddering of nationwide chain Borders a few years ago and the bland sameness of Barnes & Noble stores throughout the U.S, we can be grateful for the colorfulness of independent bookstores across the country. In cities such as Portland, Ore., independent bookstores like Powell's City of Books – which covers an entire city block and offers maps for its customers – not only are thriving, they contribute to a city's cultural fabric.

READ / Window display outside of
Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle.
A neon READ sign in a window display greets customers as they walk by Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. It's a sign I never tire of photographing each time I visit the bookstore – and I've been coming to Seattle for more than 20 years. With over 120,000 titles to browse, and a spacious interior that includes original fir floors, a beamed ceiling with skylights, and an in-store café, Elliott Bay Book Company is always on our list of places to see – and to buy a book – when we visit our longtime Seattle friends.

Last Saturday, Independent Bookstore Day was celebrated across the United States. It brought to mind the many wonderful and unique independent bookstores I've visited over the years and willingly patronized. A few of them come to mind:

Book Passage in San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Building; Mrs. Dalloway's Literary and Garden Arts in Berkeley; Powell's City of Books in Portland, Ore.; Books & Books  in Coral Gables, Fla.; Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson, Miss.; Faulkner House Books on Pirate's Alley in New Orleans; Common Good Books in Saint Paul, Minn.; and my favorite, Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle.

Bought a good book lately? Remember: Support your local independent bookstore. READ!

Original fir floors, beamed ceilings, plenty of
 books inside Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle.

Tomes Not Drones / Timeless commentary
at Common Good Books, Saint Paul. 

Eat Sleep Read Dig / Window mantra
at Mrs. Dalloway's Literary & Garden Arts,
Berkeley, Calif.

We Recommend ... / Good books,
great atmosphere at Book Passage,
inside the Ferry Plaza Building,
along San Francisco's Embarcadero.

All photos: © Michael Dickens, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

In our garden: Reflections on Earth Day 2016

Purple iris

Earth Day, a day that inspires awareness and appreciation of all the gifts earth and nature gives us, was observed worldwide on April 22.

It is often said that love begins in the home. And, so does our love for our planet earth. Last week, in preparation for Earth Day, I took advantage of our moderate temperatures that we who live in the San Francisco Bay Area enjoy throughout the year. The opportunity to be outside allowed me to spend some quality time in our garden.

As I looked around, I thought to myself: "If I love the earth, all will bloom naturally."

We are blessed to have nine different rose bushes as well as irises, calla lilies, fuchsias, rhododendrons and camellias surrounding our house. Indeed, we have an abundance of beautiful blooms throughout the entire year, especially during the month of April when all of them are in bloom at the same time. They get plenty of sunshine and clean air, and as we are aware that northern California is in a drought, we are mindful not to be careless in how much we water our flowers and plants.

And, so, in celebration of Earth Day, as I do so often throughout the year, I grabbed my camera and took lots of photographs, recording these colorful moments in our garden for others to appreciate and enjoy. Consider it  as my random act of kindness. 

May every day be like Earth Day to us.

Queen Elizabeth rose

All That Jazz rose

Purple rhododendron

Calla lily

Rainbow-colored rose

All photographs © Michael Dickens, 2016.